Hong Kong win keeps Asian Series hopes alive

(IRB.COM) Monday 14 October 2013
 
 Hong Kong win keeps Asian Series hopes alive
Tom McQueen was one of Hong Kong's try scorers in the win over Japan in Mumbai - Photo: ARFU

Hong Kong kept alive their hopes of retaining their Asian Sevens crown by pulling off an impressive 24-14 win over Japan in the third leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Mumbai on Sunday.

Teenager Raef Morrison scored a decisive try just after half-time with Japan threatening to stage another sensational comeback, but Hong Kong kept their composure and nerve to defeat their arch-rivals for the first time in three attempts this season.

“We were more composed and didn’t panic, and I believe this was the key difference between winning in Mumbai and losing the previous two legs in Malaysia and Thailand,” said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.

Hong Kong began with a bang, scoring tries from Lee Jones and Tom McQueen to take an early 14-0 lead. They could have stretched it further right on half-time after being awarded an attacking scrum five metres from the Japan try-line.

However, superb defence by the Japanese turned things around and it was left to Hong Kong’s nemesis this season, Lomano Lemeki, to run 50 metres and touch down to put his side on the board.

The 14-point turnaround might on previous occasions have torn the heart out of Hong Kong, but 19-year-old Morrison stepped up to the plate and just after the break settled his side’s nerves with a superb individual try, beating three defenders to score under the posts.

Everything to play for

“He was just magnificent all weekend and he is truly a find for us,” said Rees.

The hard lesson from previous tournaments was evident when Hong Kong stretched the lead with captain Jamie Hood opting to take a drop goal after being awarded a penalty in front of the Japanese posts. Leading 24-7 and with the conditions underfoot at the Bombay Gymkhana treacherous and muddy, Hong Kong slowed the game down cleverly and despite a second try by Lemeki finished deserving winners.

The victory pulled Hong Kong to within one point of Japan in the overall standings with one round to go, the Singapore Sevens on 9-10 November. Japan are top of the table with 35 points from two wins and a runner-up finish, while Hong Kong are on 34 points and Sri Lanka on 29 points after finishing third again.

“We are back and there is everything to play for in Singapore next month,” said Rees.  

Hong Kong had earlier booked their berth in the final with knockout wins over Singapore (28-0) and Sri Lanka (33-19). A Rowan Varty hat-trick paved the way for victory over Sri Lanka as Hong Kong picked up the tempo after a slow start earlier in the day when they struggled in the wet and humid conditions to overcome a tough challenge from Singapore in a scrappy affair.

The second day jitters, however, were forgotten by the time the semi-finals came around and Hong Kong produced a clinical display, racing into a 21-0 lead with tries by Hood, Varty and Tom McQueen before Sri Lanka got on the board with a breakaway try by Dinusha Chathuranga.

Trio gain silverware

But any hopes of a second-half fight-back by Sri Lanka was quickly doused by Varty, who added two more tries to take the score to 33-7 before Sri Lanka scored a couple of late consolation tries from impressive forward Chula Susantha and Saliya Kumara.

Japan’s path to the final was past Thailand (38-0) in the quarter-finals and then Malaysia (19-0). The Asian juggernaut had looked tentative, especially against Malaysia who defended robustly. But Japan, saving their key players for the final – Lemeki played only the last couple of minutes of the semi – did just enough to secure victory.

Malaysia had earlier pulled off the shock off the tournament by knocking out Korea in the Cup quarter-finals. It was the second time in the Series that Malaysia had got the better of the Koreans, having beaten them in the preliminary round of round one on home soil. But this was even sweeter coming in the knockout stages. Malaysia made light of the soggy conditions underfoot to establish a 26-0 lead before Korea hit back late with two consolation tries.

This loss in the quarter-finals allowed Sri Lanka to break free and occupy third place in the overall standings, a spot they had shared with Korea coming into the India Sevens. Sri Lanka defeated Malaysia 26-10 in the third place-play-off to finish third for the second tournament in a row.

Decimated by injuries to key players in previous legs, Korea’s decline continued as they lost to Thailand 8-0 in the Plate semi-finals to finish eighth, their worst result of the season.

The other finals saw the Philippines win by the Plate for the second tournament in a row by beating Thailand 29-7, Chinese Taipei beat China 17-12 in extra-time in the Bowl final while hosts India beat the UAE 22-0 in the Shield final.